Why a healthy gut is so important

The gut or intestine is the largest inner organ in the human body. It's responsible for so much more than just digestion. It's essential for our immune system and important for mental health. Even Hippocrates believed that many diseases originated in the gut. Discover exciting facts about the intestines and download free healthy recipes to cook for your gut. 

Also find out what can impair your gut flora and how you can give it a boost. If our gut is in good order and the gut flora is balanced, we generally feel fit and healthy. Sub-optimal gut flora can trigger numerous diseases, allergies and even skin problems.

Did you know? Ten fascinating facts about the gut

  • The human intestines (gut) are around 8 metres long.
  • The gut is the largest human organ. If you were to lay out the umpteen tiny folds and villi in the intestinal wall, the surface area of the gut would extend to 300 to 500 m2. By way of comparison, the entire surface of our skin doesn't even come to 2 m2, and a doubles tennis court is around 260 m2.
  • Thousands of strains of different bacteria live in the human gut and form the natural gut flora. They make up a large part of the human microbiome. The microbiome is all the microorganisms living on and in every human being. It's increasingly believed to play an important role in individual health and disease. All these bacteria together weigh around two kilos.
  • A healthy gut flora strengthens the immune system, because 70% of the defence cells of the human immune system are located in the gut.
  • Stress or taking antibiotics can throw the gut flora out of balance.
  • Probiotics have a positive influence on the gut flora. These are bacteria that have a health-promoting effect. They help keep the gut fit.
  • A healthy gut also likes to rest. It's important for it to have a break of several hours between meals. If you're constantly eating, the intestinal bacteria have food all the time and can multiply (depending on what's eaten, unfavourably). So a break of four hours is recommended between main meals and a break of twelve hours overnight.
  • The gut is also known as the seat of intuition. After processing and evaluating sensory impressions and thoughts, it reports them to the brain.
  • There are 100 million nerve cells in the digestive tract, more than in the spinal cord, so there's very good reason for the term "abdominal brain".
    In the course of an average lifetime, a gut processes about 30,000 kg of food and over 50,000 litres of fluid.

What throws the gut flora out of balance

A healthy gut isn't only important for good digestion, but also for the immune system and our mental wellbeing. There are a number of things that can throw a healthy gut flora off track.

A common cause of intestinal discomfort is antibiotic drugs. In 2021 alone, almost one fifth of the Swiss population took antibiotics, used in human and veterinary medicine to combat bacterial diseases. Antibiotics attack not only bacteria that cause diseases, but also the body's own precious intestinal bacteria. Other medicines can also cause unexpected and undesirable side effects in the gastrointestinal tract.

Unhealthy diets such as too much sugar, alcohol or high-fat food can also have an unfavourable effect on the intestinal flora.

Stress is also harmful to gut health.

Other medicines can also cause unexpected and undesired side effects in the gastrointestinal tract. For our digestion to work well, various glands (for example the salivary glands) and organs (such as the gall bladder and pancreas) and the intestines themselves must work well together. The various digestive juices our body produces and the millions of intestinal bacteria break down our food. This allows important nutrients and fluids to be released and absorbed, and other, unusable food components to be transported out of the body in the stool. Breaking down food and transporting the food pulp are equally important functions. If one of them doesn't work properly, problems such as gas, bloating, pain, constipation or diarrhoea may occur. Intestinal bacteria also help the intestinal mucosa to stay healthy, protecting it from inflammation and from developing intolerances. To do this they must be available in large quantities and in as great a variety as possible.

The intestine is an organ that does an incredible amount of work through a lifetime and needs recognition and care in return.
Most people know their digestion and their own personal digestive habits. The gut likes to have rituals, but they don't have to be the same for everyone. If you notice changes, there's often something out of balance. In the event of mild symptoms, first of all it's a good idea to do something for your gut flora and support your efforts with a healthy mixed diet. If the pain becomes more severe and the changes persist, you should have this checked out by a doctor. Silke Schmitt Oggier, Medical Director of santé24 telemedicine service

How to get the gut healthy again

It makes sense to actively do something for the health of your gut and thus indirectly for your health as a whole. A wholesome diet facilitates the development and maintenance of a healthy gut flora. Even small changes in your diet make a big difference. There are some foods that naturally contain beneficial bacteria. Probiotics are preparations made of good bacteria that stimulate growth. They help revitalise the gut flora and get the intestines fit. There are around 400 probiotic bacteria. One of the best known is the lactic acid bacterium, which is very acid-tolerant and thus survives the passage through the stomach and can settle in the gut.

The following foods contain probiotic bacteria:
  • Plain yoghurt
  • Kefir
  • Buttermilk
  • Quark
  • Sour milk
  • Sauerkraut
  • Miso (Japanese seasoning paste)
  • Gherkins
  • Kombucha (fermented tea)
  • Apple vinegar
  • Cheese
  • Tempeh
  • Kimchi
Prebiotics also have a healthy effect on the gut. Prebiotics are dietary fibres that are not digested by the body and promote the growth and activity of bacteria in the colon. Inulin and oligofructose are two prebiotics from plant ingredients. Whole grain products and vegetables contain more fibre and are therefore good for the gut.

Recipes to try out that are good for your gut

Get an exclusive look at the recipes of the "Healthy Cooking for Your Gut" cooking class by certified naturopath Sarah Müllhaupt and the Hiltl Academy now. These are everyday recipes that you can easily cook for yourself at home.

Download the recipe ideas free of charge now and put on your apron.

Download recipes

Nutritional tips for a healthy gut

  • Take your time when eating and chew your food thoroughly. If you chew each bite fifteen to thirty times, the food is optimally crushed and mixed with saliva. The stomach doesn't have to do extra work and can devote itself to what it's supposed to be doing.
  • Leave gaps between meals. Constant snacking overloads your gut. It needs breaks to regenerate. In concrete terms that means a gap of around three to four hours between meals; overnight you can even take a break of 12 to 16 hours.
  • Enjoy sugar in moderation. Many products you wouldn't expect actually contain sugar. Deliberately cut down on sugar because it can have a negative impact on your gut flora.
  • Wholemeal has a positive influence on the gut flora, so choose wholemeal rather than white flour products.
  • Virgin colada and alcohol-free beer at the weekend. Alcohol can cause digestive problems such as belching or even diarrhoea. Like sugar, it also has a pro-inflammatory effect.
  • No fast food. High-fat food is heavier on the stomach and harder to digest. Depending on the composition of the gut flora, fat digestion functions differently from person to person.

If the change in diet alone isn't enough to build up the gut flora, there are also a variety of probiotic preparations that also support the process. Here it's advisable to seek advice from a doctor or pharmacist.

SWICA customers benefit from free nutrition advice over the phone from santé24's specialists.

Find out more

SWICA can support you with exclusive services

Up to 900 francs* for preventive services each year
Nutrition plays an important role in your health and wellbeing. That's why SWICA supports its supplementary insurance customers with up to 900 francs* per year (*find out more) with a variety of offers in the area of nutrition such as nutrition advice, nutrition apps, TCM, diet and nutrition programmes with SWICA-recognised advisors or service providers. By the way, supplementary insurance is a valuable add-on to your basic insurance in every case, and you can purchase a plan from SWICA at any time, regardless of which insurer currently provides your basic insurance.

To supplementary insurance cover

Free nutrition advice from santé24 for SWICA customers

Would you like to eat more healthily and consciously, perhaps lose a few pounds, or do you have any general questions regarding nutrition? SWICA's customers can access free nutritional advice from specialists at the santé24 telemedicine service. Call santé24 to make an appointment.

santé24 - your Swiss telemedicine service
Phone +41 44 404 86 86

View the entire range of santé24 services

santé24: Registration for a telephone consultation

active4life offer for SWICA customers

Cook with the pros at the Hiltl Academy
The Hiltl Academy is synonymous with vegetarian and vegan cuisine. It offers a wide range of cooking courses, including health workshops. These classes are designed as a simple and tasty way to learn about a healthy diet. Together with experienced cooking class instructors and external specialists, the Academy guides all participants step by step through the preparation of the dishes, providing valuable tips and tricks for healthy nutrition in everyday life.

Under the active4life partner programme, SWICA customers get an exclusive 15% discount on health-related cooking classes at the Hiltl Academy.

Request discount code now

SWICA – Because health is everything

Being active pays off. SWICA – unlike many other health insurance companies – supports your personal commitment through a wide range of activities and offers relating to health promotion and preventive healthcare. Whether you're looking for nutritional advice, yoga, tai chi, fitness classes, swimming lessons, breathing exercises, personal training, mindfulness training, tennis or one of the other available options, you enjoy attractive contributions of up to 1'300 francs* per year from the COMPLETA FORTE, COMPLETA PRAEVENTA and OPTIMA supplementary insurance plans (*see detailed information).

Incidentally, supplementary insurance always provides valuable additional benefits above and beyond those available under basic insurance. It can be taken out with SWICA at any time, regardless of which insurer currently provides your basic insurance.


Personal consultation

Would you like more information or a personal consultation? SWICA Client Services would be happy to assist. Call us on 0800 80 90 80 or send us a message using the contact form below.

Request a personal consultation